Carstairs still out front

Steve Green, Free Press Sports Reporter

, Last Updated: 12:00 PM ET

Twenty-five years later, some things haven't changed for Kent Carstairs -- he's still playing for provincial curling titles and he's still playing lead. The man who threw first stones for Russ Howard throughout the 1980s -- winning Ontario men's crowns in 1980, 1986, 1987 and 1989, adding Canadian and world titles in 1987 -- is now doing so for Axel Larsen of Guelph.

Along with Walter Johnson and Gerry Sundwall, they won the 2001 Ontario senior men's title and are trying for another this week at Highland.

They're 3-2 after winning their two games yesterday, beating Gary Smith of Ottawa CC 8-3 in the morning's fourth draw and Bruce Park of Brant 8-5 in the fifth round.

"I just love the game. Or I'm too stupid to quit. Take your pick,'' Carstairs, 57, said with a hearty laugh when asked how he still finds the drive to compete at this level. "The thing is, I'm curling with a great bunch of guys. They've taken me in like family.''

In the 1980s, Howard and his rink were at the forefront of developing what is now the four-rock rule -- rocks outside the rings can't be removed by the leads -- in order to get more rocks in play and generate more fan interest. Carstairs said the new rules have made the lead position much more important.

"Now you've got to be able to play the ticks, the tap-backs and the freezes,'' he said. "Some games, you almost forget how to hit.''

And while Carstairs plays a little third in club games, he's never felt the urge to play any other position competitively.

"I really like lead. I feel you're in the game more when you're sweeping a lot,'' he said, adding with another laugh that his wealth of experience entitles him to an opinion on shots. "They don't necessarily take it, but I do put my two cents in.''

Carstairs almost didn't get a chance to play this season, thanks to a cyst at the base of his spine. But an operation in September did the trick.

"I was on the verge of realizing I wouldn't be able to play anymore,'' said the Canadian Curling Hall of Famer, adding that day is now much further in the future.

Layne Noble of Ottawa Rideau tops the standings at 5-0, followed by Frank Gowman of Galt at 4-1. Larry Snow of Durham and Bob Edmondson of Oakville are also 3-2, Park is 2-3 and Smith and Paul Bennett of Whitby are 0-5.

Alexander still in hunt

On the women's side, Highland's Ruth Alexander stormed back from a 5-2 deficit after seven ends to beat Marg Cole of Toronto St. George's 9-6 in 11 ends and improve to 3-1 heading into last night's fifth-draw game against Pat Reid of Toronto Avonlea.

Alexander and her rink of Gayle George, Sue Dittmer and Jill Bezaire struggled early but made some excellent shots late to score two in the eighth, steal two in the ninth and force Cole to one in the 10th. "We knew the ice, we just couldn't get it together,'' Alexander said. "Cole games are real character-builders and this was a really important win because we'd had such a great day yesterday (winning twice).

"Once we got that two in the eighth I thought, 'OK, we can do this.' Getting that two in nine was a real bonus, but we need to crank it up a notch, that's for sure.''

Reid and Joyce Potter of Rideau shared the lead at 4-0, with Alexander and Dale Curtis of Guelph tied at 3-1. Anne Gray of Burlington and Diane Harris of Ottawa City View were 1-3 with Cole and Cindy Lew of Orangeville 0-4.

Ontario Hearts field set

No Sherry Middaugh, no Anne Merklinger, no Anne Dunn. That means the Ontario Scott Tournament of Hearts starting Monday at Rideau is a wide-open race. Carrying local hopes will be Jo-Ann Rizzo of Brant, who has Kim Tuck and Sara Gatchell of Strathroy as her front end. Also entered are Chrissy Cadorin of Guelph, Janet McGhee of Uxbridge, Kim Moore of North Halton, Jenn Hanna of Ottawa CC, Kathy Brown of Sutton, Elaine Uhryn of Sault Ste. Marie, Krista Scharf and Tara George of Thunder Bay and Dawn Schwar of Sudbury. The winner advances to the national STOH in St. John's, Nfld., Feb. 19-27.

Around the house

Carolyn Sheppard of Ilderton and her rink of Linda McKnight, Bernie Burnham and Lyn Barker beat clubmate Jane Galloway in the final of the 26th annual Gay Lea Better Butter women's bonspiel at Ilderton. Other flight winners were Donna Stewart of Wiarton in B, Jan McAninch of Ilderton in C, Barbara Labord of St. Thomas in D.


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